Call this my plan to fix the 2019 New York Giants. Instead of a normal “Valentine’s Views” on this Tuesday, let’s look at all of the different critical decisions the Giants face this offseason.
In some cases, I will give you exactly how I would approach a situation. In others, a more generic outline. Right now, this is as close to a 2019 plan as I’ve got. So, here goes.
The quarterback plan
Let’s just get right to this. If you’re familiar with my work you are probably expecting what it about to come next, so here it is. I think the best course of action for the Giants starts with Eli Manning returning for the 2019 season. Maybe that means with a pay cut, but that is where I believe the plan needs to start. Unless, of course, Manning throws as monkey wrench into the deal and hangs up his cleats.
I simply don’t believe there is another veteran out there who is a) a realistic option and b) a better player than Manning.
Nick Foles? Not realistic, and I’m not sure about him away from Philly, anyway. Joe Flacco? Younger, but not better than Manning. And even more expensive. Tyrod Taylor? Give me a break. Teddy Bridgewater? Some will bang the drum for him. I won’t. I just don’t see it.
Remember, though, I said the plan “starts” with Manning. I fully recognize, and it’s time for the Giants to recognize as well, that they need to set themselves up for the future if they can.
I could see the Giants bringing in a young player like Kyle Sloter of the Minnesota Vikings, a player coach Pat Shurmur is familiar with and apparently likes very much, upgrade the depth. I wouldn’t be opposed to that if it costs, say, a conditional seventh-round pick.
Now, for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State has declared for the draft. So, too, has Daniel Jones of Duke. That means the two players yours truly sees as the most likely targets for the Giants should they go after a quarterback in Round 1 are on the board. Sorry, Drew Lock fans! The comparison to Paxton Lynch has me running in the other direction.
The Giants, of course, sit at No. 6 in the 2019 NFL Draft order. Currently, that makes them the first team on the board with an obvious long-term need at quarterback. It doesn’t, though, mean they are guaranteed their pick of the quarterback litter.
If I’m making the decision, I consider Haskins with the sixth pick. To be honest, I’m a long way from being sold that picking him there is the right thing to do. Where I will be on that question four months from now, we will have to see.
What I do know is that I’m not, under any circumstances, trading up to get Haskins. If the Jaguars or someone else wants to leap frog the Giants to select him, I’m not going to cry about it.
If that happens, would I take Jones at No. 6? I’m not there yet, either. What I would consider doing is this — picking the best player on the board at No. 6 and then using some of the 11 picks the Giants will have once compensatory picks are awarded to move back up into Round 1 to grab Jones.
That way, you get an immediate impact player and a possible quarterback of the future.
This view could change in four months with more study and more information at my fingertips. That, though, is the approach I might take today.
Fixing the pass rush
The Giants finished the season tied for second-last in the league with 30 sacks. The weird thing is they were ninth overall per Sports Info Solutions in pressure rate. So, what does that tell us? Maybe that the Giants have some guys who can impact the pocket, but not enough guys who can close the deal.
So, let’s talk about Olivier Vernon.
There are many Giants fans who want to run Vernon out of town just as much as they want to run Manning out of town. Is that really a good idea?
Vernon led the Giants in sacks with 7.0 despite playing in just 11 games due to a preseason ankle injury. He has 22 sacks in 39 games with the Giants. In 2018, Pro Football Focus ranked Vernon 26th among 72 qualifying defenders in pass rush productivity. Vernon was far and away the Giants’ leader in quarterback pressures with 46 despite missing five games. Rookie Lorenzo Carter was second with 29.
If I had my druthers, Vernon would be back in 2019. I think, though, that it is likely he and the Giants will part ways. Vernon is good, but not nearly good enough to be worth the $19.5 million cap hit he carries into next season. If it’s me, I ask Vernon to re-structure his contract to lower that cap hit. My guess, though, is that Vernon would balk at that request. In which case, he’s out the door.
Carter gives the Giants hope of having a dynamic edge rusher. B.J. Hill can push the pocket inside, though I’m not sure he can consistently duplicate the 5.5 sacks he had in 2018. The Giants need an influx of pass rushers, especially if they move on Vernon.
Fortunately, the draft is said to be rich in pass rushers. If it’s me making the decisions, I hope to come out of the draft with a couple of them. If EDGE player Josh Allen of Kentucky is sitting at No. 6, I have a difficult time passing him up.
In free agency, Dee Ford (13.0 sacks in 2018) is a name that jump off the page if the Kansas City Chiefs let him get away. Traditional defensive ends like Ezekiel Ansah, Demarcus Lawrence and Brandon Graham might not fit the Giants’ desire to be a 3-4 base team.
Highest graded Giants players in the 2018 season (min 500 snaps):— PFF NY Giants (@PFF_Giants) January 7, 2019
1. WR Odell Beckham Jr - 90.0
2. ED Olivier Vernon - 86.3
3. RB Saquon Barkley - 85.9
4. DI Dalvin Tomlinson - 78.9
5. T Nate Solder - 74.2
DI Damon Harrison - 89.9 (traded)
TE Evan Engram - 76.5 (475 snaps)
Finish the offensive line rebuild
GM Dave Gettleman walked in the Giants’ door knowing he had to fix the line — and promising to get that done. After a year that featured a revolving door the work to fix the “hog mollies” isn’t done. If you listen to Gettleman, that work is never done.
“I am always going to keep working on those lines, on those groups,” the general manager said at his season-ending press conference. “You cannot have enough hog mollies, you can’t, because people get hurt. You can’t have enough.”
The Giants come out of 2018 knowing they are set on the left side of their line. Left tackle Nate Solder gave up just one sack in his final eight games and gave the Giants what they thought they were signing in free agency last offseason — a solid player and terrific locker room presence. Left guard Will Hernandez, the team’s second-round pick, would probably be considered the best guard in the rookie class if it wasn’t for Quenton Nelson of the Indianapolis Colts.
The Giants are less settled at the other three spots.
They absolutely must try to upgrade right tackle. The name you will hear constantly, and the player that I will endorse going after, is Daryl Williams. Gettleman drafted Williams in 2015 when he was GM of the Carolina Panthers, and Williams was a starter until a knee injury cost him all but one game in 2018. Williams, who will be 27 next season, allowed just five sacks and 69 pressures in two full seasons in Carolina. Chad Wheeler gave up six sacks and 45 pressures in 14 2018 games.
Jonah Williams of Alabama and Greg Little of Ole Miss are considered the top two tackles in the draft. If the Giants don’t go quarterback at No. 6 I might prefer the best impact defensive player there and maybe adding someone like Wisconsin right tackle David Edwards on Day 2.
At center, the Giants seem to feel good about Jon Halapio, who went out for the season in Week 3 with a fractured ankle. I’m OK with that, and perhaps with Spencer Pulley returning as depth. I would, however, like to see the Giants find a center prospect in the middle portion of the draft.
At right guard, how much is Jamon Brown worth? The Giants gave Patrick Omameh a three-year, $15 million deal and sent him on his not-so-merry way after a half-season. Brown is a better player and helped the Giants immensely after being picked up on waivers from the Los Angeles Rams, but he is not a top-tier guard. Does he slide into a contract similar to what the Giants gave Omameh? More? Less? I bring Brown back as long as it isn’t going to cost significantly more than Omameh did. I’m not giving him top 10 guard money. Even bringing Brown back, I’m looking in the draft for interior help.
Do not let Landon Collins leave
For me, this is a no-brainer. Pass rush, secondary, linebacker — wherever you look the Giants do not have enough defensive talent. Collins is not a perfect player, better close to the line of scrimmage and covering in short areas than he is down the field or matched up 1-on-1 vs. running backs or tight ends. He is, however, the best defensive player the Giants have. He is their defensive captain. He will only be 25 next season.
Maybe you use the franchise tag on him for 2019 while you figure out his long-term value. I’m fine with that. What you do not do, though, is let him leave. The franchise tag deadline is March 5, so the Giants have two months to figure it out.
Address the rest of the secondary
After Collins, or maybe before, the Giants have to make a decision on Janoris Jenkins. Jackrabbit is entering the fourth year of his five-year, $62.5 million contract. He carries a $14.75 million cap hit in 2019. Is he worth it?
Jenkins was ranked No. 89 among cornerbacks graded by Pro Football Focus in snaps per reception allowed (10.0) in 2018. Among 66 cornerbacks who played at least 582 snaps (why PFF used that exact number I’m not sure) Jackrabbit ranked 39th overall. His passer rating against of 109.3 was 66th out of 76 qualifying cornerbacks, per PFF.
Jenkins really didn’t play up to his contract, which makes him the eighth-highest paid cornerback in the league. Not close.
If I had my druthers (that word again), Jenkins wouldn’t be a Giant in 2019. Shoot, I went on record as far back as the middle of 2017 when his effort was questioned that I’d like to see him gone. I still question his effort at times, and given a choice I would still move on from him.
Problem is, I’m not sure the Giants really have a choice here. Aside from Jenkins, you are looking at 2018 Supplemental Draft pick Sam Beal, undrafted free agent Grant Haley and perhaps journeyman B.W. Webb as your other corners.
The pickings in free agency seem kind of slim, and I’m not sure how much of a priority can be placed on corner in the draft given the needs in other positions. I think the Giants end up trying to get Jenkins to accept a pay cut to lower his cap hit and bringing him back.
The cap savings if they move on? As a pre-June 1 cut, $7.75 million with $7 million in dead cap. As a post-June 1 cut, $11.25 million in savings with a $3.5 million cap hit.
I would also be looking to upgrade free safety. Curtis Riley wasn’t good at free safety and might well have played — or not played — his way off the roster with his lack of effort on a Week 17 touchdown by Blake Jarwin of the Dallas Cowboys.
Tyrann Mathieu, Earl Thomas or Adrian Amos in free agency, anyone? Mathieu, with a previous connection to defensive coordinator James Bettcher, might seem like a fit. If it’s me, I’m at least checking the price tags on veteran free safeties, though I’m not really in love with the idea of Mathieu or Thomas.
Deionte Thompson of Alabama is considered the best safety in the draft. All things being equal, though, pass rush, offensive line and quarterback are probably higher priorities. Here is an early look at some of the other safeties in this draft class.
Honestly assess the veteran free agents on the roster
Here is a complete look at the Giants’ free agents, via Over the Cap:
2019 New York Giants Free Agents
We have already discussed a couple of the names on the list. Shurmur has said he would like to see everyone on the roster back next season, but that isn’t going to happen. Shurmur understands that.
At wide receiver, I have said previously that the players I think it makes the most sense to bring back are Cody Latimer and Corey Coleman. They have special teams ability, and at least some upside as receivers.
On the offensive line, Jamon Brown is a guy who should be brought back. Spencer Pulley, too, as a backup. I have no issue with bringing offensive lineman John Greco and tight end Scott Simonson to camp to compete for jobs, though if the Giants think they can do better they should.
I would bring fullback Elijhaa Penny back. I think he’s a useful piece.
Defensively, things get interesting.
On the line, I have a hard time showing Kerry Wynn the door but he is still a limited player. Mario Edwards and Josh Mauro I could take or leave. Give me one, but not both.
In the secondary, I’m bringing B.W. Webb back. I’m just hoping he doesn’t end up as a starter again. I think he’s excellent depth.
Curtis Riley? See ya!
Use the draft wisely
The Giants’ 2018 draft class looks like an excellent one. With Barkley, Hernandez, Hill and Carter there are four building blocks for the future. Perhaps five if R.J. McIntosh pans out. After years of sub-par drafts in the final years of Jerry Reese’s tenure, that group is enough to breed optimism that the Giants work in the draft will improve under Gettleman.
The 2019 draft is a critical one for the Giants. They went 5-11, and a big part of the reason is that they still need more talent. As we know, they have a quarterback situation to figure out and might be in position to do that in this draft.
The Giants have nine picks and could end up with 11 once compensatory picks are awarded. That gives them the opportunity to have a transformative draft. I have already said I wouldn’t, but if they are sold on Haskins they could use extra picks to move up in Round 1 and get him. They could use those additional picks to move around the board and target players. They could simply sit tight and accumulate the best players they believe are on the boar when their turns arrive.
The model is the Indianapolis Colts, who used an 11-player draft in 2018 — and the return of Andrew Luck — to go from 4-12 a season ago to the playoffs.
The sheer volume of picks provides the Giants with opportunities here. Use them to get their quarterback of the future, or use them to just build a talent base that is in need of help in several areas.
Whichever path they choose, getting this draft right could set the Giants up for the “sustained success” Gettleman has said he is trying to achieve. Get it wrong? The misery, and the losing, will likely continue.